At the Gorge Invitational, Paul and I had plenty of opportunities to rip off some windy wire to wire jibes.  This is always the most feared maneuver when the wind is cranking and after a lot of people went swimming, we were asked to explain how to jibe in windy conditions.  This is a detailed explanation of the best way I have found to jibe.  There are definitely other and potentially better ways to do it, but this seems to work very well and I’m sticking with it.

The main objective in every jibe should always be to KEEP THE KITE FULL.  That’s how you keep the boat moving fast and prevent the main from loading up too much.  So long as you’re able to do that, I’ve found you don’t need to go crashing through the jibe as fast as you can.  It still needs to be quick, but it’s better to slow down each step by a second, be smooth and keep the spinnaker full.

The first thing the skipper should always do before a jibe is check to make sure the pole launcher line isn’t tangled on anything that would stop the pole from fully retracting.  The last thing you want is for the pole to still be halfway out as you’re carving through your turn.

Next the skipper pulls the slack out of and cleats the windward jib sheet and the crew uncleats the leeward one.  This will prevent the jib from wrapping around the forestay.  Now you’re prepped for the actual maneuver.

The skipper should always cleat the mainsheet and let the crew pull the boom over because he will need both hands to steer and trim the spinnaker through the jibe.  The main should be a few feet off the transom or about 45 degrees off centerline.

As the skipper cleats the mainsheet, he needs to put the tiller extension down on the leeward tank and be careful not to get it tangled in any lines.  This is one of the most critical steps of the maneuver.  By putting the tiller extension on the leeward tank you ensure that it won’t get tangled in the mainsheet or other lines as you cross the boat.  The friction created by pushing it against the tank also reduces unwanted movements and helps stabilize your turn.

With his forward hand now free (since the mainsheet is cleated) the skipper grabs what will be the new spinnaker sheet and using both hands, pulls the slack out the same way he would pull in the mainsheet.

These three steps of:

  1. Cleating the mainsheet
  2. Putting the tiller extension on the leeward tank
  3. Pulling the slack out of the lazy spinnaker sheet

Should all take about 2 seconds.

At this point you have not yet begun your turn, the boat is still ripping and the crew is fully out on the wire.

As soon the skipper starts pulling the slack out of the lazy sheet he should yell, “go” to the crew who immediately swings into the boat.  This part of the jibe is highly critical and is where a lot of crews screw up.  Often they are so focused on getting into the boat, blowing the pole and pulling the boom across that they forget the number one objective in the jibe – KEEP THE KITE FULL!

Usually as crews enter the boat they either ease the sheet too much or let go of it all together and this creates a host of problems:

  1. The kite collapses and you slow down which means you’re losing distance on your competitors
  2. By slowing down the main loads up and is a lot harder to pull across the boat
  3. When you come out of the jibe, rather than the kite being full and rotated around to leeward, it’s collapsed to windward and tangled in the jib.

The most important thing for the crew to focus on as they enter the boat is making sure the kite stays full.  In order to do this they will often have to pull in the sheet to compensate for the fact that their body is moving toward the ratchet block they are sheeting from.

As they are entering the boat the crew should also be eyeing the pole launcher line and immediately release it.  The skipper should already be gradually turning the boat downwind and the pole retracting is their queue to smoothly speed up the turn.

Once the pole launcher line has been released the crew can now ease and then release the spinnaker sheet to let the kite rotate around during the turn.  Keep a close eye on the kite and work on your timing.  Ease it too fast and it will collapse and ease it too slowly and it wont have time to rotate around the boat during the turn.  At the same time the crew should grab the boom vang and quickly pull the main across.  Whatever you do, DON’T LET THE MAIN GET STUCK IN LIMBO!  Pull it across hard.

At this point the skipper should have the new spinnaker sheet in one hand and the tiller extension in the other.  As the crew pulls the boom across, he should be simultaneously turning through the wind and crossing the boat clear to the other side.  While crossing the boat, keep looking forward and give the spinnaker sheet a tug to rotate the kite and keep it full.  The sheet should still be in your old forward hand and using the same technique as in a tack, switch tiller hands behind your back so that the tiller extension and spinnaker sheet are both briefly in your new back hand when you come out of the gybe.  Your new forward hand should now be free and the spinnaker sheet is led behind the mainsheet to you tiller hand.  With your forward hand, reach around the mainsheet, grab the spinnaker sheet and pull it in to keep the spinnaker flying as you head up.

As soon as the boom comes across the crew should have immediately started pulling the new pole out.  By the time he’s finished, the skipper should have reached around the mainsheet to pull the spinnaker sheet and is ready to hand it to the crew.  When done well the Spinnaker stays completely full throughout the entire maneuver.

Once the crew has the spinnaker sheet in their hand, they sometimes have the odd habit of sitting on the rail as if they’re waiting for something.  Don’t Wait!  Hook up and get on the wire as fast as possible.  The longer you are sitting on the rail the more distance you are losing to boats around you.  The skipper should head up as you step out to keep you above the water.

Once the crew is on the wire and the kite is trimmed correctly, he should pull in the jib.